Nijinsky in L'après-midi d'un faune (or The Afternoon of a Faun) and Haydn drawing Joseph
NKOSI SIKELE’ MANDELA
I had intended to forego this week’s blog in favour of a simple reference to Nelson Mandela, but Tom is swiftly and rightly on the mark. So I will continue with my small thoughts on painting, and leave the eulogies to others.
Momentous occasions remind us of the small scale of our daily concerns, and, when the concern in question is as comparatively lightweight as painting, we might correctly feel embarrassed. And I do feel both embarrassed and exhilarated to be able to spend significant time and resources pursuing this selfish objective in a very unfair world. However, I am not feeding a family with my artistic endeavour and do not wish to belittle the efforts of those who do. Nor do I think that we must all aspire to great things; our individual concerns are important at the scale of our lives, and deserve appropriate attention. So it is that each Life Session requires so much more than mere attendance and painting or drawing materials.
Tour the studio at the break, and satisfaction plays a very minor role in the lives of the assembled flagellants. We all appear disappointed, without knowing why, or, more accurately, how to recover. There is any number of things which we have failed to achieve, and they can be clearly identified, but we cannot crystallise the elusive objective. This, of course, is the nature, the thrill and the anguish of painting; manual dexterity is not enough. It must be directed by a clear eye and a fertile imagination. Nor can “success” be had at a stroke; it has to be fought for, through mistakes, failures, false hopes and against natural inclination. Watch Tom working over a period of weeks and you will see a constant willingness, a need to discard past and current achievement in search of a new way. Self- satisfaction and peer approval are the enemies of fresh thinking, and our small efforts, in this tiny corner of human activity can achieve worthwhile status through commitment equivalent to that of our heroes.
So, who amongst last evening’s gallery is searching for development, and who is content with their lot? Ian, Tom and Patrick are clearly experimenting with unconventional technique and colour, providing more questions than answers but laying the foundations for serious progress. I don’t know Ben’s work well enough to be sure, but this lovely charcoal drawing shows a willingness to experiment, with extreme variation in the marks and a well-judged balance between abstraction and realism. He could be standing too close to Barry though?
Barry, however, demonstrates why his style is attracting disciples, with one of his strongest paintings; terrific composition and positive, confident execution. This is development by persistence; evolution rather than revolution, but effective all the same. Hadyn, Steven and Tony follow the same route, and might be accused of complacency, if we were unaware of their individual commitment to accuracy and the unquestionable honesty of pencil drawing. Of the two Sues, Mrs Ibottson seems to have been out of sorts, has not produced her usually powerful rendition and I am not inclined to read too much into this piece. Sue D-Y, however, gives us the best likeness of Joseph; not proportionally accurate, but having that elusive feeling of a particular individual. No boundaries pushed, but a palpable hit!
That leaves me and Sandra, both trying to squeeze more out of our respective default techniques. We were sharing the same viewpoint, and I probably got in her way . Whatever, she seemed unusually cross with herself, suggesting no problem with complacency, but a strong desire to improve. For me, Sandra’s work always shows commendable effort to pin down the right image, and this one is no different. So far as my own work is concerned, I feel that I have only just arrived at a clear, if basic life- painting technique, and can get more from it. The graphic style appears to be hard-wired and I currently favour running with who I am, rather than striving to be someone else. I also know that I am not going to get away with this, no matter how hard I work at it, and that Tom will be bullying me into painting with kitchen utensils before I can say Knife. Thank goodness that is my single greatest challenge, as I am ill-equipped for a more momentous occasion.
by Russell Lumb
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Ben, Hadyn, Ian, Patrick, Russell, Sandra, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom and Tony.